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Speech by Lord Justice Irwin: Complexity and Obscurity in the Law, and how we might mitigate them

May I begin by giving my thanks to the PNBA for the invitation to deliver this lecture and for your welcome.  It is an honour to be here.  I have looked back to see who were my predecessors in giving the lecture over recent years, and they are a very distinguished group:  Lord Walker, Lord Hope, Baroness Hale and Lord Justice Jackson are amongst the recent speakers.

This has put me in mind of the words of Lord Lane when he became Lord Chief Justice.  The Midland and Oxford Circuit gave him dinner, and in thanking them he told them he had looked into his copy of Campbell’s Lives of the Chief Justices to discover that the first Chief Justice was called Odo.  “And now” he said “you have got Thicko”.  In his case, misplaced modesty, but not in mine.

Complexity and obscurity are not the same thing.  A topic may be inevitably complex with many factors requiring reconciliation, although in any given case not all of those factors will be determinant.  Indeed sometimes lawyers create complexity in order to achieve certainty and avoid obscurity.  That is a proposition which might amaze the ordinary reader.  Elaboration can be necessary.

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